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Powerful Reminders of Pandemic’s Toll on Immigrant Workers – and Why Taxpaying Families Must Be Included in Next Round of Relief

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Three pieces today drive home the point that so-called “essential” workers – disproportionately immigrant and persons of color – are keeping our society functioning at a tremendous risk to their lives. In industries such as meat processing, these workers are being forced to continue working in hot-spots that lack basic protections for their safety. Thus far, our federal government has expressed its “gratitude” by having Trump and Republicans turbocharge their demonizing and blaming of immigrants, while excluding many American tax paying families from legislative relief packages.

According to Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

At a minimum, if you’re part of a taxpaying family you should be eligible for benefits. At a time when everyone is struggling to adapt to this new normal, xenophobic exclusion is petty and counterproductive. Immigrant families pay taxes, work in grocery stores, clean hospitals, tend to the sick and help keep the country running in the midst of a pandemic that has ground most industries to a halt. Denigrating and dehumanizing any member of our community now when we all need to be working together to defeat COVID-19 makes recovery more difficult. If Trump wants to provide a pathway for economic recovery, that means huge chunks of the population need not be excluded from coronavirus relief benefits. All of us means all of us. Trump’s coronavirus crisis will only be made worse by prejudiced anti-immigrant policies.

The opinion pieces below highlight why the exclusion of immigrant families is an unconscionable and unacceptable response that needs to change.

A Hartford Courant op-ed by longtime immigrant rights leader Kica Matos, “Undocumented immigrants are cut off from federal coronavirus aid; that has to change highlights how taxpaying immigrants have been left behind:

Healthy immigrant workers continue to clean our hospitals, look after our young, take care of our sick and the elderly, cook meals in restaurants, pick vegetables and work in our factories.Many continue to work despite dangerous conditions in their workplaces. Their dilemma is one no one should face: risk your life to feed your family, or quit your job and become destitute.

…Carmen Lanche, a leader with Unidad Latina en Acción, spoke about her plight and that of other immigrant workers: ‘Immigrant workers are risking our lives daily. … If they accept our work, they must also accept our humanity. Gov. Lamont, what about us?’

A new Washington Post opinion column by León Krauze,Immigrants — essential, ignored, persecuted — are committed to the U.S. Where’s our gratitude?” notes the hypocrisy in simultaneously devaluing immigrants and relying on their labor:

The plight of undocumented people in the United States during the pandemic has been particularly incongruous and cruel. While the government has declared many within the undocumented community as essential — among them at least 1 million farmworkers — it has not only refused to help them directly in any significant way, but also persisted in their relentless persecution. Many of those deported carry the virus with them, back to countries that aren’t remotely ready to deal with an outbreak. In the meantime, Stephen Miller, President Trump’s de facto nativist czar, has continued to restrict immigration, making it harder to obtain legal residency in the country.

Mississippi Clarion-Ledger op-ed by researcher and professor Angela Stuesse,Mississippi poultry worker dies of coronavirus: Celso Mendoza spoke up” points out the unsafe conditions that poultry workers face that contributed to the death of her friend: 

Packed closer together than the birds they slaughter, amid the constant din of machinery, workers are forced into close range at every turn. Few have access to paid sick leave and many cannot afford to miss work when they feel unwell. These practices present ideal conditions for the coronavirus to infect large numbers of people quickly.

…This is the life of many immigrant poultry workers throughout the U.S.: earning far less than a fair wage, paying far beyond a fair price for housing, barely scraping by, year after year.